The Buttercup Event Space, just outside of Koreatown, was bumping Saturday afternoon — not with bass but with the sound of bullets flying.
BLAST Pro Series LA brought professional Counter-Strike: Global Offensive for a rare visit to California, bringing some of the best teams from around the world to compete for a $250,000 prize pool.
The venue wasn’t filled to capacity — at $99 for a one-day ticket or $149 for the weekend, it’s a pricey ticket for gamers — but the fans there were ravenous to see top-tier CS literally played right in front of them given how intimate the space is.
The teams there included the top-ranked team in the world, Team Liquid, which won $1 million last week at a tournament in Cologne, Germany, European all-star team Faze Clan, Brazilian powerhouse MiBR, up-and-coming NRG, North American fan favorite Cloud 9, and Australian mainstay Renegades.
Despite me being a CS player and fan for nearly 20 years, this is the first live pro event I’ve ever been to. Part of the problem is most events aren’t in California, and another part is that most of my friends interested in CS live elsewhere.
But now that I’ve seen the big moments live, cheered with fellow fans in the crowd, and gotten to meet some of my favorite players, I might be hooked.
My mom taught elementary school. That means we were as Mac family. When I was young, that didn’t mean a whole lot, but as I approached my teenage years, it meant I wasn’t able to play the same games my friends had.
They were playing Half-Life while I was playing Star Wars Dark Forces. Enough said if you’re at all into PC gaming.
After I started high school, it started to become clear the ’90s Mac we had wouldn’t cut it, so I convinced my family to get a Dell (and broadband internet). I knew nothing about PCs, but I was finally able to play Half-Life at home instead of at friends’ houses, and it was a revelation.
Then came Counter-Strike. “Revelation” doesn’t adequately express what CS was to me. To say that it set me on a course to becoming who I am today is entirely accurate.
At its core, CS is a competitive first-person shooter. Teams of five face off against each other, each assuming the roles of terrorists attempting to plant a bomb to blow up something important and counter-terrorists who seek to eliminate the terrorists and prevent the bomb from blowing up.
I fell in love. Up until then, I had only competed in games against a person using a second controller sitting next to me. I had never tested my skills against complete strangers, and once I got a taste of this form of competition, I was hooked.
I would play for hours on end, so much that my parents put a time limit for my computer usage. As any teenager is expected to, I did everything I could to circumvent the limits they set. I joined a “clan” — an amateur team, essentially — and competed in tournaments. CS was my life — or so I wanted.
I attended a high-achieving high school, and I represented the bottom of the top students. I played baseball and held leadership positions in clubs. That left no room for CS. And as I moved on to college, my interests shifted. I played other games and made other friends, both in real life and online. I met one particularly good friend, Matt, playing zombie shooter Left 4 Dead 2.
We played L4D2 for years until we lost touch as a result of the complexities of real life. Around 2013, we reconnected, and I found he was playing the most recent iteration of CS, Global Offensive. The nostalgia was more than enough to convince me to start playing again.
In some ways, it was like riding a bike. I still knew what to do, though I wasn’t necessarily able to do those things effectively. CS requires hours of practice, building up muscle memory and training to react as quickly as possible. As an adult, I couldn’t devote that kind of time to the game. But my love for CS was rekindled, and instead of playing the game, I found that a robust professional scene existed and that I could watch the game I loved as if it was a sport.
The last time I played CS:GO seriously was in 2015, and I haven’t really looked back since. At Saturday’s BLAST event, I got a chance to chat with former pro player and current broadcast analyst Chad “SPUNJ” Burchill, and he explained it perfectly — he’s been retired as a pro for a few years now, and he does seek to play CS:GO on days off when he’s home, but he can’t do much of it because it’s frustrating being out of practice and unable to play the way he used to be able.
But he nonetheless loves the game — loves thinking about it, talking about it, and watching it played in new and innovative ways.
I felt that. I super felt that.
One thing I said that resonated with SPUNJ is that after almost 20 years , I may not play anymore but I love the game nonetheless.
“We need that,” he said. “We need people with CS in their blood to help pass it on to the next generation.”
I actually saw that happen at the BLAST event. Orange County residents Kiefer and Priscilla Webb brought their nine-month-old son Braxton to the tournament Saturday. They made a staycation of it — visiting museums and other sights Friday before attending BLAST over the weekend.
Kiefer took up CS:GO in 2014 and immediately fell in love with both playing and watching the pros play. While she doesn’t play, Priscilla has become accustomed to watching CS because it’s often on at home.
“There are these amazing, dramatic moments,” Priscilla said. “You can’t not be into it.”
While young Braxton is too young to absorb any of the CS he’s exposed to, it’s almost certain he’ll have the game in his blood. He is, after all, named after famed player Braxton “swag” Pierce, whose skill is legendary but whose story is tragic.
Kiefer, an 11-year British expat, wanted his son to bear a British first name, but nothing he saw appealed to him. He was watching swag highlight videos on YouTube and came across his first name of Braxton. After getting approval from Priscilla, the rest was history.
I got the feeling SPUNJ would have quite liked the Webbs.
I’m sad I won’t have time Sunday to watch the BLAST Pro Series LA playoffs and finals in person. The action was exactly what I hoped to see, and the crowd was electric to be part of. Also, as a North American, I couldn’t be more pleased to have seen and taken a pic with Team Liquid. It may be odd, but I admire these young men, many of whom are more than 10 years younger than I.
Needless to say, I can’t wait until I can attend another live CS:GO tournament.
But if you’re in Southern California, tickets are still available for Sunday’s matches. This isn’t an ad — again, it’s $99, but if you’ve never been and think you might like to see some world-class Counter-Strike, it’s an exciting experience.
When: Sunday, July 14. Doors open 10 a.m., Grand finals to begin 7 p.m.
Where: Buttercup Event Space, 4317 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90004
Tickets: Available for purchase here